Towering Inferno: The Movie Review (Thirty six years too late)
Starring Fred Astaire, O.J. Simpson and the kid who played Bobby Brady, The Towering Inferno is easily one of the greatest movies of all-time to ever feature Fred Astaire, O.J. Simpson and the kid who played Bobby Brady.
Calling this film a “disaster movie” is fair, but “disastrous movie” would be closer to the truth. (Wow, I actually felt like Rex Reed with that catty comment. Well to be honest, it’s either that or these white loafers, and red and white checkerboard leisure suit jacket I’m wearing, but for whatever reason, I’m feeling a bit Rexish.)
The film weighs in at almost 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and about 2 hours of that is exposition. What really rankles though, is that next to none of that set-up time is spent on making any of the movies’ characters more than one-dimensional – which maybe wouldn’t be so bad if we could see some fire sometime soon. When the hell is this tower gonna start to inferno? It takes over an hour for the flames to claim their first victim, and that guy doesn’t even die, nor is he even a guest at the gala penthouse party. Sixty minutes and the first victim is just some extra. A lousy burnt extra.
We’ll overlook the fact that the 134-story building was constructed in San Francisco, and would more likely be perfect for a title like, Earthquake, but apparently that flick had been done before… and by many of the same perpetrators.
When free-spirit-caught-in-the-constraints-of-the-modern-world/ world-famous-architect, Paul Newman realizes the building he designed was constructed by cutting corners he’s incensed. This is after all, exactly why he has such a beef with the modern world – it’s filled with corner-cutting bastards.
Newman’s rage soon turns out to be justified. Electrical sparks from the corner cutting wiring (purchased by William Holden’s cowardly son-in-law Richard Chamberlain) find their way to the conveniently placed oily rags under the poorly constructed fuse box which will eventually burn not only the floors above, but surprisingly many of the floors below. That’s some seriously cheap wiring. Corner-cutting bastards!
Here’s a sampling of one of the best scenes in the movie; Robert Wagner (who for some unknown reason has ordered for all the phones on his high-rise office floor to be turned off) has just finished up a little naughty workplace hanky-panky (That’s what they called it back then. Seriously) with his secretary. After a bit of post coitus love talk, the secretary asks, “Did you leave a cigarette burning?” To which Wagner also notices an odor and discovers their entire floor is on fire. Cigarette smoke must have been exceptionally foul-smelling back in the seventies. Thank goodness for filter tips.
Immediately Wagner throws a damp bath towel over his head, and almost manages to mess up his hair. With a reassuring wink, he tells his workplace fuck buddy (That’s what we call it nowadays.) that he once ran the 100-yard dash in ten seconds flat, and proceeds to sprint out of his office and directly into a flaming chair, not 3 yards into his dramatic rescue attempt. This sends the up-to-that-point cocksure Wagner into a fiery slow-motion stumble into every other piece of flaming office furniture until he trips and falls through a plate of glass so sheer, that I wouldn’t consider drinking water out of it for fear of a larynx full of bloody, glassy shards.
Check it out:
The movie has plenty more scenes just like this one, each one more stupefying than the last, but let’s skip to the end for expedience sake. Newman and McQueen rig explosives to a couple giant water tanks two floors above the survivors. The thinking is the bombs will not only burst the water tanks, but also blow up the floors below, allowing the water to do its job. Why the water hits everyone at a 90-degree angle is a mystery. To the untrained eye it would appear that there were stagehands, just off screen squirting Newman, McQueen and the rest with high-pressure fire hoses, but that couldn’t possibly be the answer, could it?. (Poor Fred Astaire. You do get the feeling the elderly elegant hoofer probably died of pneumonia shortly after filming this scene.)
The movie is summed up by millionaire contractor, William Holden, with these words as he attempts to console his now widowed daughter, “Ya know, there’s nothing any of us can do to bring back the dead.” Sign this man up for some inspirational speaking engagements. This fella really knows how to comfort the grieving.
Of course he follows that line up with a second doozy. “All I can do now is to pray to God I can help this from ever happening again.” Sure the power of prayer may help… but so might not settling for cheaper building materials when you’re erecting the largest building in the world in a city known for its earthquakes. You got off lucky with a simple fire, Mr. Holden. You got off lucky. Sadly we the audience did not. (Oh, look I did that Rex Reed thing again… It must be this stupid leisure suit.)
I rate this movie: “Terrible but Great.”